Labour Day Message from Leader of the Opposition

Opposition Leader Paul Lewis shares a Labour Day Message – A Trying Time for Workers in the Midst of COVID-19

Leader of the Opposition Paul Lewis

On behalf of The Opposition, we extend Labour Day greetings to all workers, employers and to all of our elected representatives.
The Opposition also extends condolences to those who have lost love ones during these difficult and trying times. We additionally wish a speedy recovery to all COVID-19 positive patients.
Labour Day or International Workers Day is a time when the social and economic achievements of the working class and labourers across the world is celebrated.
This year”s Labour Day is however being observed under the cloud of the dreadful COVID-19 Pandemic with all its negative impact taking its toll upon workers across the world. COVID-19 has struck at the heart of all workers across all sectors, with many losing their jobs, or are now unsure about job security going forward.
Even in the midst of this global Pandemic; essential workers, health care workers and support staff, they all continue their physical presence on the job as they work hard to save lives and maintain essential services while the rest of the population take cover in the safety of our homes.
The Opposition would once again like to commend them for their unwavering and selfless service. They deserve full respect and every tangible benefit and appreciation that could possibly come their way. This can be in the form of hazard pay and bonuses funded from the £2.5 million (EC$8,000,000) COVID-19 response fund our Government recently received.
We call on the Government to give serious consideration to this recommendation for hazard allowance or bonuses to our front-line workers. The Opposition salutes them on a job well done thus far, as we have seen good results and welcome the news of the recovery of COVID-19 patients.
Many other workers under lockdown will now experience a different mode of work with some persons being placed on shift work, while others provide services from home. We appreciate the services of all workers and businesses in adjusting their modes of operations in this trying time.
Not all workers are as fortunate though. In some cases, the impact from COVID-19 has left many others jobless and some others with so many uncertainties over their future, as businesses crumble while others are struggling to stay open.

COVID-19 has destroyed the livelihoods of many, leaving them in need of some measure of relief. During a crisis a “no one left behind” policy should be applied, as we are all in this together.
In a crisis, relief should be given to all persons and businesses in need, with equity and transparency high on any relief agenda of the government. Reaching the people mostly in need should be top priority.
Since we are all in this together, all persons and businesses in need should therefore benefit from the relief programs on offer.
I call on our government to consider in this time of crisis, a “no one left behind” policy – for businesses and non-business people alike – to include those not up to date with social security payments and taxes. They too are in need and should benefit from government relief programs.
Some live from pay cheque to pay cheque with little, if any savings.

Remember this is a crisis where all businesses were ordered to close operations due to a mandatory shutdown by government for our own safety. This meant businesses could not operate and persons not allowed to work.
Most self-employed do not generate pay slips, but I trust their verification of income can be worked out with the authorities on reasonable terms.
Many owners of small businesses and self-employed workers have raised the following concerns:
Firstly, why only tourism related businesses are the ones that can benefit from a $10,000 grant when other sectors are under lockdown and also heavily impacted?
This practice is not equitable and is not justifiable. This is discrimination against other sectors. What happened to “we are all in this together”? The other sectors have bills and rent to pay and are also in need.
Let us not forget the children at home who were on government lunch programs and still require some assistance during the lockdown.
Let’s not forget the continuous learning needs and assistance required to support children while they are at home.

Let us not forget that people who require transportation from one point to another when they are allowed to move about to pay bills and shop. Government can subsidize the bus services through the 80% of income program that’s in place. Once this is done, buses can carry limited numbers as a solution to the present absence of transportation.
We must give priority to safety but must never lose sight of the key ingredient to feed the engine of the economy post COVID-19 lockdown.
We must pay attention on how the budget is funded.
Another reasonable question at this time, is whether the government has received any assurances of a top-up to the budget should government fall short of raising its 40% of the budget through local revenues?
If Government falls short of raising its projected target and DFID does not provide any top-up, will Government be forced to cut much needed services?
What is the government’s stimulus plan post COVID-19 lockdown? How will Government put people to work or facilitate the environment for private sector businesses to survive?
The answers to these questions are important to safeguard the livelihoods of our people.
I trust that here in Montserrat we will be able to maneuver through these uncertain times without any mass fatalities or casualties.
In closing, I encourage all to continue practicing the safety guidelines that will keep us all secure. We thank all those front-line workers and other workers for their efforts during this trying time. Let us all seek to persevere and do what is right by everyone so that our island may remain the paradise that is.
Thank you all.

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